Home > Abusive relationships, bullying, office politics, Psychology > Workplace Bullying and Office Politics: What is Mobbing?

Workplace Bullying and Office Politics: What is Mobbing?


paranoidDo you feel like you’re being singled out or “ganged up on” at work? Do your co-workers suddenly stop talking when you enter the room? Do you notice co-workers and/your boss rolling their eyes or exchanging glances when you talk in a meeting? Do you feel like people at work are undermining you or out to get you? Do you wonder if you’re just imagining things or being paranoid?

If so, you may be the target of a form of workplace bullying called mobbing. Mobbing isn’t illegal and is a commonplace occurrence in office politics.

What is mobbing?

Mobbing is the impassioned psychological harassment of one individual by a group. The attack is usually instigated and led by one or two people who are typically in a position of authority or a peer leader. The instigator enlists his or her colleagues to engage in a form of group bullying.

The group victimization of a single target has several goals including: demeaning, discrediting, alienating, excluding, humiliating, scapegoating, isolating and, ultimately, eliminating the targeted individual.

These behaviors typically manifest as petty harassment and bureaucratic hassles (Rosen, Katz & Morahan, 2007). Mobbing is a form of emotional abuse, which can negatively impact your health, career, family, and the organization that harbors bullies.

Organizational impact of mobbing.

Companies that condone individual bullying and mobbing are affected by hard and “soft” costs. Hard costs include high employee turnover, high absenteeism, “presenteeism” (employees show up, but they’re on “autopilot”—they exercise discretionary effort), decreased productivity, and a bad reputation in regard to taking care of employees. A bad company reputation reduces the ability to attract talented recruits. Soft costs include decreased job satisfaction, poor communication and information sharing, low morale, and a sense of betrayal by management. Eventually, the poor morale and reduced creativity trickles down to a poor customer experience.

Who is likely to mob?

Mobbing ringleaders are bullies who try to dominate and control others. These behaviors usually aren’t overt. Instead, mobbing employs the surreptitious use of rumor, innuendo, making inappropriate jokes, and public discrediting. One of the most stressful aspects for targets of this abuse is the covert nature of what’s going on and the lack of concrete evidence. It’s a form of gaslighting in which the target begins to doubt his or her experiences and/or sanity.

Namie and Namie (2000) describe individuals who instigate mobbing as, “inadequate, defective, and poorly developed people.” They’re generally angry, unpredictable, critical, jealous, and manipulative (Davenport, Schwartz and Elliot, 1999; Namie and Namie, 2000). The emotionally abusive bullies who engage in mobbing revel in the excitement produced by their animosity. It produces a pleasurable buzz or rush in them. Westhues (2002) refers to this as “the euphoria of collective attack.”

Bullying and mobbing in any organization usually isn’t a one time occurrence. All bullies are “repeat offenders;” if they’ve bullied once and gotten away with it, they’ll most definitely bully again. Getting away with it is its own reward as is being able to manipulate and control both the target and management.

A bully always has an “enemy” in the cross hairs. After they force one target out of the system, they’ll move onto the next one within 2 hours to 2 weeks. Abusing others are how they derive a sense of power and control. A bully doesn’t stop bullying until someone with authority makes them stop and/or fires them.

Who is likely to become the target of mobbing?

Mobbing targets have certain characteristics in common. Typical targets include people who are:

  • average to high achievers
  • extremely competent
  • devoted
  • loyal
  • organized
  • cooperative
  • experienced

They become targets out of jealousy or because they’ve somehow put a co-worker or superior to shame. Creative people are also likely to be mobbed because they present new ideas that challenge others. Other likely targets include people who excel in some area, are different in some way (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity), dissent with certain organizational practices, or have knowledge of wrongdoing or a breach of ethics by someone with authority in the workplace.

If you believe you’re being bullied by a co-worker and/or are the target of mobbing, take the time to research your options. Find out what you can do to protect yourself and come up with a strategy to find away out of this toxic situation. It may require that you to transfer to another department or seek employment elsewhere. If your company condones bullying, you may have no other choice but to leave.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

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Photo credit:

Paranoid on Francis-Emporium.

Rosen, S.E., Katz, J.K., & Morahan, P.S. (2007), Avoiding \’mobbing\’ in the workplace–and surviving if you are mobbed. Academic Physician & Scientist, Sept. 2007, pp. 4-6.

  1. Ann
    July 12, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    These people are jealous, possibly also cowards.

    They have to gang up on you rather than competing with you fairly on a level playing field.

    Sad.

  2. Ann
    July 12, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    These people are cowards Donnie.

    They have to gang up on you rather than competing with you fairly.

    Sad.

  3. SAIL
    January 15, 2017 at 2:14 am

    This validates my belief that I’m not crazy. They said I’m just paranoid, but I always wondered why my ‘paranoia’ was limited only in the workplace when everyone is at work and not anywhere else. I always felt so relieved as soon as I’m out the office door or during overtime when everyone is away and the paranoia was only inside the office, during office time. I’m now planning to resign and take some personal break.

    How do we explain this as our reason for leaving our current employer during job interviews without sounding nutty or ‘too sensitive’? (I’m from Asia where bullying is rampant but not acknowledged.)

    This situation is a first for me and I’m still feeling off balance. I’m still having a hard time believing this could happen, so it’s not so easy for me to even explain it to friends & family why i’m leaving a nice job.

  4. May 28, 2016 at 3:53 am

    A toxic woman was hired in my workplace a few years ago. She divided the workplace culture (which was once strong), isolated employees she doesn’t like, pushed out new hires who compete with her, makes veiled threats, manipulates others, sabotages her teammates. She’s disturbing. I’m not sure how she gets away with it. I’ve been in the company nearly 10 years. I thought I’d retire here, but the environment is unbearable. I will leave soon if this continues.

    The management in my office is vigilant, they have to know what’s going on, don’t they?

    • shrink4men
      May 29, 2016 at 8:56 am

      They might, or might now. IS she friendly with people in HR? Is she highly productive? Or, it could be management doesn’t know how to handle the situation.

  5. Maureen
    March 17, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    A woman at my work bullies all the new people and those she thinks she can be being hostile, demanding, and telling tales to management. Management thinks she is the sweetest thing on two legs no matter how many people go to them with specific incidents of this woman’s outright meanness. Now that those whom this woman bullied are speaking up, she is claiming to be a victim of mobbing. Not true. We’re all just rather tired of her meanness. How do we handle this?

  6. Roma
    July 30, 2015 at 2:57 am

    I was mobbed on a couple jobs but it’s been such a while now. I have a feeling they all ended up turning on each other. Sad that some people are so insecure they can’t stand for another person to earn a pay check. One day people like this will be brought to their knees and won’t know how they got there.

  7. Lex
    July 21, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    It was difficult to explain what I was going through at work until I read this article. This is precisely what goes on at my current company. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. The part that really confirmed this was happening is that I wasn’t the first person who was bullied. I watched it happen to two people before me who quit without even having another job lined up. I’m thankful I found this article so I can share it with others who may be dealing with a similar situation. It’s comforting to know you aren’t alone when working in an abusive environment.

  8. Renee miller
    July 17, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Wish people would read this for it happens way too much!!!

  9. January 23, 2015 at 11:50 am

    Iv been going through mobbing for about 5 years at 3 different work places the first I filed a complaint and nothing was done in fact it got worst and the even more people joined in, so I left, new place same thing within my first week it started all over again put in a complaint nothing the bullies denied any knowledge got away with it , I was told how nice those people are and after about a week it started again slowly then more intensely with even more people joining in- so I left new place same thing – people from the previous job found out where I was going and knew people there so basically as soon as I started – it all began again , I put in a complaint they denied any knowledge of it , I was told I again how nice these people were and they would never do anything like that and to forget about it, again it continued- so Iv come to the conclusion there actually is nothing you can do – you can commit suicide (which is what they want) , you can leave your job (which is what they want), or you can stay and get traumatised probably for life by their rampant bullying. There’s only one thing which usually gets me through it and it’s a book I read by Ayan rand – the fountainhead, the main character says that he will allow himself to suffer anything the world will throw at him as long as he is able to do his work- so I look at it like that bullying is the cost of being competent or ambitious or smart or just different- it’s the price you pay and if you get the thing you want you have to decide is this thing , say your passion or dream job worth this price and it’s always yes I love my dream more then I hate the pain of the bullies and I’ll gladly suffer them if what I get in the long run is what I wanted.

  10. Nick
    March 28, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Great article!! This is a near perfect depiction of what I am experiencing at the American Legion post where I have the misfortune of working until I find a real job!! In military terms this would be called Closing ranks on someone!! I find what helps me is simply depriving the A-holes of access to me, when you cannot avoid them, simply be as stoic as possible, and make no eye contact, and simply respond with a totally different response, anything other than what they expect!! Their goal is to get a rise out of you for pleasure at your expense!! Yes folks!! People are as cruel as you can ever imagine!!

    • hello
      July 30, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      I am stoic; as a result, I am accused of being ‘aloof; not participating with the team’. But the team is abusive & dysfunctional. I don’t know what to do about it – It’s made me ill & has affected my my self-esteem/confidence. I have to work to live. What worries me is the thought I’ll find the same thing at any new employer; it seems to be the ‘Norm’. I am almost debilitated by this – but I force myself to show up. I need the job/money – just to survive. (it’s hard for me to believe this is happening……..)

      • January 23, 2015 at 12:39 pm

        Stay stoic – it’s a trick when they do that to soften you up for a blow- they see your cold to them so they suck up to you and try make to loosen up your defence and when they think you have done that , just when you begin to think maybe these ppl are ok – then bam they come and get you out of nowhere and your left feeling very confused , because why would they go to so much effort to be nice just to do that.q this happened to me a lot until I spotted the pattern and it’s always the same if they say your aloof fuck them why do they care what your thinking or doing – they have their mind on you, that’s all that says and you should quadriplegic your defences and watch them even more be ten times more vigilant and avoid them even more

  11. March 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Great forum. Well done for posting on this all too common phenomenon. It’s a little like domestic abuse in the sense that there’s a feeling of shame and embarrasment in those being bullied. Is it me? Am I being paranoid? Am I really lousy at my job? I read with special interest from another male reader who works in healthcare; a mainly female dominated sector. Ditto! I am one of the few males at my place of work in a care home for elderly dementia residents. Over the months and since joining a particular team things have gone from bad to worse. They don’t like my non-robotic beliefs about how to do my job.
    ..in other words, I try to put the residents real needs above ‘the system’ and being an ultra-efficient a drone. In the care business, if you want to find mistakes you can find them everywhere, so now just about every burp and fart is being scrutinised and picked up on. At the centre if it all is a team leader with some kind of control freak neurosis who likes to play Queen Bee…setting people up against eachother whilst pretending to be each person’s best ally. It’s all just sickening and these mobbing women are just irrational hypocrites….pretending to be such oh so caring people in the care profession but cannot even extend their pretences of caring to their own colleagues! Soon, I will have to transfer to a different wing of the residence, but it may make no difference due to the general mentality of the company and its female dominated management. Bullying is endemic at my place of work and it’s always the creative individualists, the non-conformists but who are in fact the most mature and rational who get targeted. It’s like being trapped in a kids playground! Things will only change if they hire a better gender balance. I think these particular women just feel threatened and can’t stand to have their drone bee mentalities subtly questioned, even though I have always just tried to work happily and in a good team spirit. Sorry if all this sounds anti-female. Men can also bully but women do it in more cunning and covert way that’s harder to pin down. Thanks for all the shared experiences here.

    • Lex
      July 22, 2015 at 12:21 am

      Your post is a year old so I don’t know if you will even see this, but as a female in the healthcare industry I can still agree with you 100%. You would think that fellow women in the workplace would want to lift you up, but instead they prefer to tear people down. I didn’t have this same experience in the banking or insurance industry. Insurance is a very male dominated field and I was treated more fairly and with more respect there than I have been in healthcare. I’m done with healthcare for good.

  12. kat
    December 5, 2012 at 1:30 am

    This is such a wonderful site. Thank you so much for the valuable information. I actually didn’t understand what was happening at my work place until I read this article.

  13. September 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    You will find my mobbing story on my personal website http://judithmunson.com
    It basically boils down to the fact that while I was employed by a major hospital, I had an emergency heart surgery and when I came back from that my supervisor started calling me into her office almost daily with complaints about my work. There wer things not entered into the computer, files missing and a host of other things that the “mob” was taking care of for her by sabotaging my work.

    To make a long story short, I was physically ill every day to the point of vomiting on the way to work. The trauma left me incapacitated for seven years with agoraphobia.

    That is the reason that I have become a healthy workplace bill advocate and continue fighting against the growing epidemic of workplace bullying.

    Judith Munson

  14. July 26, 2012 at 6:17 am

    Hmmmmmmm, I am a older woman who is within early retirement age and is a teacher. I have experienced this, along with many others, in public education. The first four years was from a principal who was eventually moved to another school after she fired another teacher (who eventually sued the principal and the school district and won). We were each others’ support. Now, a year later rather than outright harass me (too obvious) the higher ups have “recruited” co-workers to MOB me after reporting a more “popular” teacher who was using inappropriate force to attempt to control a student with a serious disability. The new principal is weak and fearful of losing his job due to all of the changes and recent challenges to public education (budget cuts, high stakes testing, lay offs, charter schools…..). Just read an article in National Educators Association (NEA on line) “Bullying of Teachers Pervasive in Many Schools” dated May 2012 that has had over 140 comments posted mostly by teachers who have experienced this, also. Looking for ways to help myself and others in this situation. Thank you for the information regarding this.

    • shrink4men
      July 26, 2012 at 7:27 pm

      Hi itsoktostandup,

      I am very sorry to read that you have been the target of mobbing. I’ve been on the receiving end of it, too, and it’s awful. You did the right thing in reporting the bully for abusing the student. Of course, that put you on the bully’s radar and now you’re the new target.

      Document everything that is going on at work and perhaps speak to an attorney about reporting this teach and the inaction of the new principal to the superintendent. I’m sure the last thing the school board wants is for one of their teachers/schools to turn up in a youtube video posted by an angry parent whose child is being bullied by a teacher. It’s happening more and more.

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